Similarities in the failures of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece and the Sicilian Expedition
On paper, Xerxes and the Persians, along with Alcibiades and his Athenians, would be overwhelmingly favored to win over Greece and Sicily. However, although both the Athenians and Persians not only far outnumbered their opponents in manpower, weaponry, and utilities, they still shockingly were both beaten and sent back to their homelands. The reasons for why two superpowers such as these would fall to a cluster of city-states and a single state, has been discussed and debated for centuries now. Among the many answers and explanations presented to explain such iconic military defeats, the two that prove to apply to both the Persians and Athenians are that they both lacked selfless and quality leadership, and they were exceptionally unprepared. One glaring characteristic that applies to the magnificent failures of both the Persians in their invasion of Greece and the Athenians in their Sicilian expedition is the absence of morally sound leaders. These leaders did not only carry personal agendas, but also decided to put their self-interest above that of their countries. And it can certainly be argued that the selfishness of Xerxes, the Persian king during the time of the Greek invasion, and the Athenian politician and general during the invasion of Sicily, played quite possibly the most impactful role in the squandered conquest attempts. In the year 486 BC, when the first king of Persia, King Darius, passed away, his son Xerxes was left with the task of avenging the burning of Sardis and the embarrassing defeat at Marathon in honor of his father. Xerxes desperately wanted to make his father proud, so he set his eyes on conquering Greece, and the wealth, control, and power that came with such a feat. Not only would a successful campaign honor the memory of his father, but also if this proved successful, it would pave the way for him to solidify his place in the great line of Persian kings, who all made their name as conquerors. In his book, “The Histories,” the famous chronicler, Herodotus states, “Xerxes’ pride in his lineage made him blind against any danger (Herodotus 7.11.2). He sought an absolute decision. Either the Persians would rule over the Greeks or the other way round (Herodotus 7.11.3).” When Xerxes was planning his invasion of Greece, he decided to focus his attention on the superiority of his navy, and thus, most of the plans were concerned with the supply of food and water for the treacherous journey to Greece. Instead of devising a clever strategy on how to attack the Greeks, he devoted his time and energy to focusing on building a massive fleet. In his mind, if he did this there was no way that the Greeks could possibly defeat them. Therefore, Xerxes decided to construct a trench through the strait at Mt. Athos (Herodotus 7.22-24, 7.117). He also ordered for the construction of several “supply stops” along the course of travel, which included animals and grains, to nourish the troops passing by. Herodotus believed that the choice to build the canal was a way of Xerxes showing off his power. He feels that if Xerxes had not been so eager to appear a great conqueror, the time and manpower spent digging the trench could have been more effectively used to train and develop better warriors. This is not the first time in history that morally corrupt leadership has led to the downfall of a war or a conquest. This also can be seen in the failed Sicilian expedition led by the Athenians from 415 BC to 413 BC. In his book “History of the Peloponnesian War,” historian Thucydides argues that private interests of the Athenian politician and general, Alcibiades, caused great harm to the city of Athens as he did not care if a course of action was best; he only cared for the fortunes that could be gained through them. Also, according to Thucydides, Alcibiades was a morally corrupt man. He also grouped him with other people...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document